NEW YORK—The sandwiches sat untouched by Alfa Romeo’s chief executive, Harald Wester. Surrounded by journalists grilling him about the iconic brand he stewards, he wasn’t in the mood for food, though he did offer up a morsel of future product news. While the 4C is commanding the spotlight right now, there’s more to come. “It’s just an appetizer,” he says.
The main course, or at least one of them, will be a modern Spider. Though rumors have swirled about everything from sedans to crossovers, the most important upcoming Alfa likely will be the convertible. After all, from 1980–1995, the Spider always made up at least 50 percent of Alfa’s sales.
“People really think of Alfa as a Spider—a sports car brand,” Wester says.
While Wester wasn’t elaborating, our Georg Kacher has reported that the Fiat-Mazda sports car alliance will likely produce a Fiat (possibly badged as an Abarth) -- not an Alfa -- in addition to the next MX-5 Miata. While a sporty Fiat two-door based on a Mazda makes sense, Alfa has become reluctant to source its signature car from a Mazda factory in Japan.
“An Alfa will always come out of Italy,” Wester says.
Don’t confuse the Spider with the 4C, an ultra-lightweight coupe and roadster (named 4c Spider) with extreme driving dynamics. The 4C will be priced from about $54,000 (the initial, 500-unit Launch Edition will be closer to $70,000), and Alfa plans to sell only 1300 or so in the United States next year. Wester calls it an “affordable supercar,” while referencing its carbon-fiber monocoque and high-output four-cylinder pumping out 237 hp from a 1.8-liter turbo. A top-end model stickering for about seventy grand might or might not be affordable for you, but there’s no doubt the 4C, which can lap the Nürburgring in 8:01, is close to supercar territory.
The Spider, meanwhile, has always been a pretty car with a soft convertible top and just enough power so as not to be boring, making it ideal for summer cruising. It captured Americans’ hearts when Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock drove one in the 1967 classic, “The Graduate.” Many remain on the road today.
“Alfa Romeo is still one of the most iconic brands,” Wester says.
Few can compare with its storied past. Long before Ferrari and Lamborghini became the most famous sporting Italian brands, Alfas were dominating competitions all over Europe. Enzo Ferrari worked on and drove Alfa Romeo sports cars long before he founded his namesake company in 1947. Even into the (relatively) modern era, Alfa remained competitive, and drivers Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio used them to capture the first two Formula One drivers titles in 1950 and 1951.
The most salient question is, does the Alfa Romeo brand have a future? Wester argues it does, pointing to the brand’s Facebook fans, who number more than one million and who are, in 2014, probably more relevant than dusty trophies and records. Obviously, Alfa Romeo has a lot to build on, and the Spider sure is intriguing. For now, bring on the appetizers.